Capitol Notebook: LePage fights the law (will the law win?)

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The worst legislative session in recent memory refuses to come to an end. And as the logjam drags on, it will take a new election to put it out of its misery.

The governor and his Republican allies thwart the laws, including election laws already on the books and other measures, like Medicaid expansion, passed by voters.

The Kennebec County Superior Court has already ordered the governor to submit a plan to expand Medicaid. He has appealed to Maine’s highest court, and last week invited jail rather than comply with a potential court order.

“I will go to jail rather than put the state in red ink,” LePage threatened in a radio interview. Ignoring the fact that Maine’s Constitution requires that the governor “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

He and his Republican friends have also undermined the state’s election system, attacking the Clean Election law that guarantees state funding to qualified candidates for Legislature and governor.

Many legislative candidates, as well as Terry Hayes, an independent running for governor, launched their campaigns depending on the rules of Clean Election system. These are now being changed in the middle of the game. More Democrats than Republicans running for Legislature are using the fund, which has inspired the obstructionist Republicans.

The governor refused to sign the orders that would release the already approved election funds in June, forcing the state election commission to only give 28 percent of the promised money to candidates already running.

In a two-pronged assault on the program, Republicans in the Legislature have thwarted a fix for a simple typographical error in already passed legislation that would have released funds in the budget year that started July 1.

Normally, housekeeping bills that fix errors in legislation are routine matters. Not this year.

Republicans simply want to undermine the Clean Elections program, although many of them take advantage of it, especially back in 2010 when it helped propel right-wing Republicans to control the State House, in the same year LePage was elected.

“Republicans have never really liked Clean Elections,” explained Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. Never mind that it is the law.

LePage acknowledged that Clean Elections is the underlying issue that is stalling the completion of this year’s legislative work, and he blamed Democrats.

“All they want is taxpayer money to go and run their campaigns,” LePage said last week. “They’ve said that nothing will happen until Clean Elections is fixed.” Democrats simply want the state to follow the rules, and not change them in the middle of a campaign season.

This issue, like so many others in LePage’s tenure, will end up in the courts; Clean Elections proponents have sued to free the funds. As LePage has continued to challenge the laws that are passed, the courts are called to arbitrate many other disputes, including ranked-choice voting.

And it is not just the expansion of Medicaid that he vetoed recently, in a veto spree just before the Fourth of July holiday, but a raft of other bills for which his veto reasons defied logic.

One of the most alarming was his veto of a bill that would have sustained the pay rate for direct-care workers, those who care for the elderly and disabled, from an actual decline. That veto was fortunately overridden, but not before LePage used his veto message to rail against the minimum-wage increase, which was a law passed in a referendum vote.

You probably have to go back to the time of former House Speaker John Martin, and his fight with Gov. John McKernan about workers’ compensation insurance, which shut down government in the early 1990s, to find such acrimony in Augusta.

It is a mistake to view this disaster of a legislative session as simply a result of partisan rancor where both sides are at fault. Republicans have had the ability to control the ball in the last few years, obstructing in the House of Representatives even without a majority.

It has been a disaster due to the ability of a bullying governor, aided by a minority in the Legislature to obstruct laws that have been passed, and even undermine the fairness of our upcoming election.

The cure will be to put the other party into power in November.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

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